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Obituary: Steve Benson – Ellingham & Ringwood RFC stalwart

STEVE Benson, a much-loved and influential figure in the development of Ellingham & Ringwood RFC, who influenced hundreds of lives locally and across the country, has passed away after a battle with cancer.

Steve’s efforts helped transform a club – once voted the worst in the country in a national paper – into the thriving organisation it is today.

After often struggling to find enough players to fill one team, under his guidance, the E&R now sees hundreds of men, women and children pull on the club’s shirt.

His efforts saw Hampshire RFU lean on his experience by appointing him as club development chair, where he looked to develop others nationwide.

Steve Benson wearing his cherished Ellingham & Ringwood kit
Steve Benson wearing his cherished Ellingham & Ringwood kit

He provided over 50 years of service to housing and homeless sectors, and started playing for Ellingham in the late 70s before refereeing all over the country.

One of his highlights was refereeing a very young Jonny Wilkinson.

After kickstarting the youth section by hosting rugby workshops in local schools, Steve began plans to raise enough funds to build a clubhouse with facilities in the town.

He worked behind the scenes for 12 years, often late into the early hours of the morning.

Steve’s younger daughter, Charlotte and son Henry, who went on to serve as captain of the first team and coach the women’s team, played in the youth section. However, once he realised that Charlotte would have to stop playing rugby at 12, he turned his sights on forming a youth section for girls.

This started with around eight girls in 2005 and is now flourishing, with hundreds of playing in various teams.

Among the many players to go through the youth ranks are Poppy Cleall, Bryony Cleall, Donna Rose and Lisa Cockburn, who all played at the highest level for England, Wales and Scotland, respectively.

Steve’s impact on these women was laid bare in private tributes, which they shared to club members on learning of his passing.

He also coached girls’ county and regional rugby, where players such as 2014 Rugby World Cup winner Kay Wilson and current England international Alex Matthews came through.

Last year, Steve was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer despite never being a smoker and always keeping fit.

He became unwell and reluctantly had to stop playing rugby at age 66, but he did not stop his work on the sport .

In his 48-year association with rugby, he never had a paid role and worked to ensure everyone could receive the benefits of the game he loved.

The sport and all who knew him will miss him greatly.

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